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Inside view: Space it up!


Quality of Life Observer

- Global

- May 6 2015

Our physical environment has the power to affect the quality of our lives in a profound way. When well conceived, the space around us can actually transform our lives—turning a violent drug capital into a model for urban development, bringing skills and jobs to an African village, and encouraging office workers to go the extra mile.


Tuesday afternoon at the Quality of Life conference, the Space Management panel brought together Franklin Becker, Diébédo Francis Kéré, Juan Camilo Quintero, and Thomas Vecchione. They shared perspectives from different sectors and countries, discussing the role that our surroundings play in well-being, and how looking at space can be a way to solve problems or foster performance.

 

Two of the panelists were architects, but their areas of focus could not be more different. Based in Berlin, Kéré grew up in the small town of Gando, in Burkina Faso. He has used architecture to dramatically improve living standards in his hometown by constructing a primary school, a library, teachers’ housing, and more, combining modern techniques with traditional local materials and involving locals in the process. “In Burkina Faso we have two things: people and natural materials. In one of the poorest countries in the world, its best to get the people involved. We did this, and where in the past people would leave the village if they wanted to earn a living, now they are staying,” he explained. Kéré added that imitating what is done elsewhere is missing the chance to really use design and architecture.

 

Vecchione is a principal with Gensler Architects, a huge firm with offices around the world and high-profile projects from skyscrapers to airports. He talked about how architecture is more than just buildings, and design more than the physical aspect of the surroundings. It is about the experience you create, the ability to bring people together over some larger issue. “Urban design generates premium value,” he said. “As the corporate work environment changes – the increasing mobility of workers, the cohabitation of different generations and cultures, new working modes - it also implies that the corporate world must constantly learn from other environments like cities, airports, and universities.”

 

Designing space to have an impact on people is not necessarily about making big investments. Sometimes making small changes can create a different experience, confirmed Professor Franklin Becker. A member of the Department of Design and Environmental Analysis at Cornell University, he studies “organizational ecology,” or how space, technology, culture, work processes, and demographics interact. He said that the media tends to fixate on extraordinary workplaces like the Google or Apple headquarters, but very few businesses have large enough budgets to embark on such big projects. Becker added that most employees don’t care about spectacular features anyway, but want basic comforts such as air quality and natural lighting. “Most of all it’s important to know what design features to prioritize depending on the people and the tasks they have to perform. Whether in corporate organizations or in health care environments, organizational ecology starts by understanding the fundamental character of the people in this environment,” he said.

 

But what about space management that changes the destiny of a city? Juan Camilo Quintero is CEO of Ruta N, the innovation agency of Medellín city in Colombia, a place that was once synonymous with drug cartels and murder, and is now a tourist destination. He spoke of "pedagogical urbanism," or city planning that focuses on reform. In Medellín change has come about from cable cars or escalators that connect districts, libraries in poor neighborhoods, and new schools and parks. This process included citizens and created a sense of pride, he said. “The transformation of Medellin belongs to the inhabitants, not to the mayor. Today we have 13,000 people of Medellin contributing their ideas for the city through open innovation.”

 

Whether at a village school, a hospital, a high-rise office, or an entire city, it is clear from these discussions that spaces positively impact our health, our morale, and our safety in a way that improves both performance and social progress.

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Inside view: Space it up!

Our physical environment has the power to affect the quality of our lives in a profound way. When well conceived, the space around us can actually transform our lives—turning a violent drug capital into a model for urban development, bringing skills and jobs to an African village, and encouraging office workers to go the extra mile.

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